Greetings Students and Families,
If you’re a Rising Senior (2021) it’s time to begin the college application process. My clients had been through a one-on-one brainstorming session with me and began writing their initial college core essay outline or first draft. We are also working on refining a balanced list of colleges! Conferences began this week in our annual Writers Block Workshop. We cover a unique aspect of the college application process each day and focus on a specific task in addition to work on essay in individual writing conferences. There is still time to join us!
If you’re a rising junior (’22), like our seniors, you’re continuing college research and probably wondering about SAT/ACTs and cancelled summer plans. Based in Boulder, Co and South Florida, please contact Online College Counselor Bonnie Rabin, PhD to schedule your upcoming end-of-year college admissions planning session.
All families, especially during this time of economic uncertainty, have many questions about financial aid, scholarships and paying for college. This blog is the second of a four-part series.
Is our family eligible for financial aid? How much aid will we receive? How to pay for college!
- Are there “financial safeties”? The short answer is YES!!
FINANCIAL AID ELIGIBILITY
Many families make the mistake of concluding they aren’t eligible for financial aid and/or don’t bother to work with a professional to help understand and apply for and appeal financial aid award letters. My clients have been successful appealing their financial aid award – that process of appeal occurs in the spring of the senior year. More information will be presented in Part III about how and when to apply for aid.
Even if you aren’t eligible for financial aid- I want to talk also about the process of “discounting”. This note will also help you appreciate that universities offer substantial amounts of “merit-based” scholarships- or “discounting” when they are interested in YOU. I have lots to say about college choice and scholarships as well.
MISTAKE TO AVOID: The Florida (and other state) Pre-Pay trap: Don’t limit yourself to in-state public institutions because you participated in Florida Prepay. Your financial circumstances may actually favor out-of-state private college attendance. You’ll learn more about financial aid basics in this note and seniors ’21 are encouraged to schedule a meeting to discuss how we shape your balanced college list when it comes to paying for college. If you’re eligible for financial aid – then it may be less pricey to attend a private university than pay within-state public tuition. Public universities don’t have much in the way of financial aid to disperse.
As for receiving financial assistance from an out-of-state public university – you should assume there is little to no assistance. Very few public universities will offer any substantial financial assistance to out-of-state residents that would create a comparable financial offset to your own within-state public university. That said, we do know that some public universities are among the finest educational experiences within the US. Looking just at financial assistance– my experience working with hundreds of applicants indicates that there is little to no merit money offered from UMich or UIllinois or the UCali system to out-of-state residents, partial assistance offered for some students from Penn State, Maryland and Ohio and tons of “discounting” from UArizona and others. Your educational aspirations are important in integrating financial costs into the larger picture of selecting a college to attend. Let’s chat about your choices and what to expect. Please reach out to schedule.
Many (not all, and certainly not the Ivy League) Universities want to attract you to attend their campus by offering lucrative merit scholarships. Based on your academic and extracurricular record– there is quite a sum of merit-based assistance for targeted students. A 4.0 and 1550+ SAT are awesome but insufficient to receive a merit package. Don’t count on it – your essay and extracurriculars determine if you are one of the students earning a merit scholarship. All applicants for prestigious scholarships have awesome GPA and test scores. That’s why I’m always pushing the idea of “finding joy/finding a passion” and getting involved in those exact joyful experiences throughout high school. More below. Read: WHO ARE YOU? Finding Your Passion.
HOW MUCH CAN WE AFFORD to Pay for College?
Based on whatever “list” of college rankings appeals to you (recall, I don’t favor using lists at all), I often ask new clients and ongoing clients to consider a simple exercise. There is a simply continuum of the most highly selective to least selective colleges– also reflecting the quality of education provided. Somewhere on that linear progression, slot in your state’s public university flagship and all the remaining colleges (reach, match, safety) on your current balanced-short list.
Now unlike buying a car, a house, a restaurant meal, or a host of other purchases – I need you to understand and accept that the published price tag for college tuition shows little if any price variation reflecting the rankings or quality of education. Literally, the most selective colleges have very similar price tags to “average” or even “below average” universities. Recognize why that occurs?! (Short of the operating costs being similar– imagine for a moment if prices really did reflect the quality- which colleges would want to advertise their lessor quality by a lower price- who would want to enroll?! This is nothing new — old news).
Looking at that continuum of colleges you just placed on a horizontal line—you can see the price tag of your public university – is that something you can afford? Even if you can afford that amount– do you want to pay for what you will receive? What if the student is not accepted to the best within-state public university –where would you want to attend? How much in tuition can your family afford —COMFORTABLY? This amount might originate either from your college savings and/or through the ongoing household budget. Whether that amount is $10k, $30k or $70k – let’s switch the conversation to what college financial aid officers think you can afford relative to what you think you can afford so you can understand how the process of financial aid is going to work and also use this information to shape your balanced list of colleges. Stay with me….
ACTIONABLE ITEM: WHAT DO FINANCIAL AID MODELS INDICATE YOU CAN AFFORD?
Please head to www.fafsa4caster.gov –it is a non-binding estimating tool to explore what your family EFC (more about that below) might be. If your EFC in this forecasting tool exceeds $40k – there is little chance of receiving an attractive financial aid package. I’ll discuss that with you one-on-one why that’s the case.
THE Website is private- takes you 5 minutes to complete… stop here, and go through that process….then continue to read my blog. If short on time, here’s an accurate hypothetical.
Rough rule of thumb: Household earnings $150k, EFC is $30-$35k depending on savings.
I’m guessing at this point- your assessment of what you can afford and the FAFSA model are way out of sync. RIGHT?!! Shocking amounts of money are revealed in that model. For most families – FAFSA generated an annual expected family college contribution that often exceeds what you pay for your mortgage and perhaps even your annual retirement savings. Stay with me…..
Next: Looking at your diagram of colleges– there’s a price point break on that line isn’t there? There’s a dollar value that you can comfortably manage. In addition- there’s two conflicting data points here. First, you already know that you’re not going to pay at any price to attend the University of “FILL IN BLANK” but you may find a way to pay (if accepted) to attend the University of “FILL IN THE BLANK”.
Every family has a sweet spot for every purchase- and college tuition is no exception because it’s an investment and should be thought of much the same as any other major purchase.
- While you might be unable to afford the full price of the most selective colleges, chances are you’ll figure /manage a way to pay the added cost beyond any financial aid received for those “special
colleges” – investments in education that more than pay for themselves in short-term summer internship opportunities, higher quality education, higher exception rates to graduate school and overall, a lifetime of more opportunity and higher earnings (the data on all these points is readily available for every university). That is not to say there are individual success stories for students who attend much less selective universities- but a higher quality education is always a goal.
So looking at what you can comfortably afford and what colleges suggest you can afford—there are still exceptions. Would you somehow manage UPenn-Wharton for your aspiring business major? How about MIT for your aspiring engineer? Most talented Musical Theater major ever– NYU ? How do you feel about the Humanities – will you pay $75K for your student to earn an undergraduate degree in a field with lower than average job prospects? These are all difficult choices – but it a conversation to have prior to selecting colleges where you’ll apply and attend and for students to appreciate the financial costs and commitments that parents are assuming by investing in their education. How do you feel about paying for a second year of tuition if the student is on academic probation– should we ever pay students for grades or penalize them for poor performance? The latter are individual parenting choices and guidelines about academic expectations may be part of your family conversation.
Knowing how much
1) your family can afford in college tuition
2) are expected to contribute (FAFSA EFC) and
3) are willing to contribute
will help you determine where to apply- especially in light of the cost of your best public university and the uncertainty over our economy for the next 18 months.
If you were accepted to MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Bowdoin or whatever dream school is on your radar—how do you compare that against the cost of within-state public university tuition?
WILL YOU ATTEND A LESS SELECTIVE UNIVERSITY FOR A DEEP DISCOUNT?
There are numerous colleges that will welcome your student at a significant discount- perhaps even “free”—how far down that continuum of selectivity feels “comfortable” should you receive an acceptance to a university that is beyond your financial comfort level much further on the “educational selectivity” continuum.
ACTIONABLE ITEM: Every family should have at least 1 to 2 financial safeties that you would consider as viable alternatives to your best public university and/or an acceptable option. We have ZERO prediction accuracy on the state of our economy for spring 2021. That’s a hard fact.
Every student should have a balanced list of universities – reach, match and safety- but having a much loved “safeties” – those institutions that we KNOW the student finds attractive while offering a very appealing package of merit aid reduces a ton of stress in the college application process. Those should be on your radar and the first college applications you submit.
Recap: The “fit” between a student and a university is based upon three pillars, including “Academics”, “Social” and “Financial”.
Every family faces unique financial circumstances and we factor those into the choices of where to apply and enroll. Given the economic uncertainty many are facing in these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s often difficult to imagine how to commit to the cost of higher education. Universities are adapting and adjusting. Whether your family is financially secure or facing serious challenges– the cost of a four-year undergraduate degree is a significant investment. You do get what you pay for-and the bizarre as I noted above is that the most selective universities with stronger educational programs are roughly the same price as significantly less selective educational programs. The cost of running a university is the same – and college quality isn’t reflected in the price tag. That said, this note informs you about how to understand that the price tag isn’t always what you are going to pay. Please do NOT pay anyone to find you a scholarship, assist you with financial aid applications (I do that as part of our contract), or apply for a scholarship -these are scams!!!
Stay tuned for Parts III and IV in my ongoing Spring 2020 College Admissions, Financial Aid and Scholarship Series. – College Consultant Bonnie R. Rabin, PhD
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